Author Archives: fictorians

You’ve Got to Have Friends

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

While the point of view character is the individual we root for throughout the story, it is often their best friend or side kick that makes the story real to me. Take a look at all the movies or books that have stuck with you throughout time and I bet you will find that part of the solid foundation was built on friendship. In fact, it is that friendship that helped make, or even sometimes, break the main character. Yes, the main character tends to be dynamic, interesting, or flawed in a way that draws the reader in; mainly the person every reader wishes they could be, to some degree. But it is the friend who truly makes the story feel complex, real, and believable.

For one, friends can be solidifiers for a group. Consider Han Solo, he is not the main character in the original Star Wars trilogy; the story is about Luke and Leia, growing up separately, learning who they truly are, and finding the strength from within. But it is Han who brings the humor, the quirky friendship, the tenacity, the fantastic one-liners, and the spunk. He is flawed, but he is fabulous. And, with his background in smuggling, he provides an alternative perspective and solutions way “outside the box”.

Because the friend often resides on the outskirts of the main plot, they also have a tendency to be the counter balance for our hero/heroine. Even though I adore Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) with her love of literature, he r wild imagination, and her spirit, it is Diana Barry that makes the story whole. She is the putty in Anne’s hands; she is the Dean Martin straight man, to Anne’s Jerry Lewis hilarity. Diana is guided into mischief by her friend, which helps the scene come alive, because we’ve all been that friend who is going to get into trouble because as a direct result of their BFF’s actions. Diana also is Anne’s safety net, and listens to her woes, providing counterpoints and possible solutions to Anne’s difficulties with the exasperating, but delectable, Gilbert Blythe.

Then there are the friends who find courage within themselves, strengthen the hero, and if need be fight their friend when the hero goes astray. For that . . . I give you Ronald Weasley. In both the books and the movies it was Ron who won my heart as a character way more than Harry Potter (I know, sacrilege). Yes, he is flawed, but he had the most growth out of the main trio in my book. He felt second rate, awkward, and lost in a crowd in the beginning (believe me, been there done that). And yet by the end, he created his own solutions, found his own strength, and helped fully defeat Voldemort. To me he had the best combination of Han Solo and Diana Barry in any character ever.

He had outstanding one-liners.

Think Sorcerer’s Stone when our intrepid trio return from their first experience with Fluffy, the three-headed dog, where Hermione states (movie):

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” Before stomping off to bed.

Ronald tells Harry the classic line, ”She needs to sort out her priorities!”

Need a say anything about spiders:

“Why’d it have to be spiders? Why couldn’t he have said, ‘Follow the butterflies.’?”

Or later, after meeting Aragog he says, “Can we panic now?”

Ron also had his own mishaps, mistakes, and misdemeanors that he grew from, and he provided the perfect counterbalance of growing up in a magic world, to Harry’s life in the Muggle world. It may have been Hermione who was the walking encyclopedia, but it was Ron who firmed up what it meant to live in the magic world. He made the magic feel real, especially when faced with the consequences of shoddy magical mishaps (don’t get me started on the whole vomiting slugs thing).

What all this boils down to is, that if you are creating a story, a world you want your readers to be sucked into so much that they will make the return trip time and time again, then make sure that you give due diligence to your point of view character’s BFF. By so doing you will add dimension, flavor, balance and believability to your story. Believe me, if you do, your readers/watchers/fans will come back to your work time and time again, in all its many formats. If you don’t, you have wasted a golden-snitch of an opportunity.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

Shave and a Haircut

The thing about tension is, it wants to be released. This is true not just for bowstrings drawn back to the ear, unresolved chords, or tectonic plates grinding up on each other in the world’s most excruciatingly slowed-down dance club. All of life, every life, is about the release of tension.

Sometimes the release comes quickly. Sometimes the stresses just continue to build, ratcheting up ever higher, long past what we would have believed to be possible. (On a possibly related note, it took me eleven years to earn my doctorate.)

But all of us are bullets, shots in the dark. We begin explosively, super-charged with unimaginable kinetic energy– as every parent of a small child knows. Over time, we lose it. Our trajectories curve groundward, our orbits decay, and we fall.

It is in this sense that mortality is a coil, in Hamlet’s famous phrasing. Life is a spring, tightly wound. Tension is what keeps it all going, what keeps this whole universe humming along. Sure, we complain about the stresses we endure day after day. But in a way, they’re reassuring. They let us know we’re still here, still kicking, not yet resting in peace.

I’m in no hurry to achieve entropic resolution myself. Oh, I know I’ll get there in time. All of us will. What’s the rush? Yet, on we run. We can’t help it. Tension propels us, speeding us toward that ultimate release.

I think this is true for stories, too. We all know the unbearable agony of being wrenched out of the narrative before we know our heroes are safe. I think that’s why parents grant their children the small mercy of finding a “stopping place” in their book (or game, or show) before they have to come help set the table.

We also know that in the very best stories, you can never find a stopping place. It gets its hooks in you right from the start and doesn’t let you go until the end. “It rips my life away, but it’s a great escape.

So, how do I make it work for me?

First, take a cue from Dean Wesley Smith and try exercising a little mind control over your readers. Hang those cliffs. Don’t make it easy for them to put your book down.

This doesn’t come naturally for me, but I’ve been experimenting with my preschooler. He wants to hear stories every night, one from mommy and one from daddy. And for the last few months, daddy’s stories have all followed a single hero (Percival Bunny-rabbit) in a continuous narrative, usually cutting off at the moment of maximum tension.

It’s cruel, I know. And every time the boy flops back on his bed with a frustrated groan, or spends the next day begging to hear the end of the story, there’s a part of me that thinks it can’t be good parenting to torture him so.

But another part of me is delighted.

He tells me he prefers stories that have an ending. So every few nights I give him a break and we come to a place where I can pronounce THE END. But the very next night my boy is asking me if we have any “leftover stories.” He can’t wait to find out what his hero is going to do next. And neither can I.

Which is the second way I am trying to make tension work for me: keeping myself in suspense. I don’t like leaving things unfinished. In fact, I’m like Roger Rabbit, positively vibrating with the need for closure.

So I’ve been experimenting on myself, trying to use this tension as a driver. Instead of stopping my writing for the day at a place where I’ve finished my scene and said all I want to, I cut it short and walk away.

The pressure of that incomplete ending, that unfinished chapter, pushes me to get back to the keyboard. And until I do, the untold story is bouncing around in my brain– generating dialogue, action sequences, etc. It itches at my brain, keeps me up at night, kicks me out of bed early in the morning to curl up on the couch with my laptop and punch out the lines that have been running through my head since my last writing session.

The experiment is still young, but it’s had some promising results. I’m really excited. I also am a little anxious, because we’ve got a new baby coming and I know that’s going to turn my whole life upside down (for the third time). And then we have the end of the semester, and then summer (and attendant travel) is going to nuke my schedule, and then we’re going to move.

So even though I’m telling you this works, I really don’t know if I can even keep this up myself. Will my new writing plan survive the month of March, or will it fall casualty to sleep deprivation? Will I find the time to finish my novel, or miss my deadline and maybe miss my chance? What will become of our peerless hero?

Find out next time, in . . .

PERCIVAL BUNNY-RABBIT

AGAINST

THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE

Coming soon!


John D. Payne lives in Houston with his wife, two sons, and (maybe, by the time this post goes up) his newborn daughter. (Still looking for names, so please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.) His hobbies include removing peanut butter and chocolate from the stupid white couches, blowing bubbles for little boys to chop with laser swords, and using a Mickey Mouse doll to do Pharaoh’s part in the Moses story (complete with Mickey voice).

John’s debut novel is The Crown and the Dragon. His stories can also be found in magazines and anthologies such as Leading Edge, Tides of Impossibility: A Fantasy Anthology from the Houston Writers Guild, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. For updates on his writing and stories about his kids, follow him on Twitter @jdp_writes.

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Attraction is easy. Desire is a deep and constant companion for most people. Even advertisers know this. We all have idle thoughts. People go out on a weekend looking for sex, and may find it or not. This is not sexual tension.

For sexual tension, you need a compelling sexual attraction – something that really pushes a character to do something they might not do otherwise.

Often sex and romance get lumped together in fiction. Both serve similar functions in a story, and often the protagonists’ sex is an expression of the love.

But not always. People can strongly desire sex with people they don’t love first, or at all, and it can have consequences other than love. Sex can also be an exchange, or a pressure, used in relationships characterized by imbalanced power. People can deny their true sexual attraction and still have pleasurable sex with others – even of different genders than their natural preference – who are not their first choice. Or, all of the above at once!

Sexual tension is a thing of the body, of the senses, of the id. It is the realm of the cad, the rake, the femme fatale – and yet, it is for all of us. It is manipulative and often shadowy, if not actually dark. It is our selfishness, our self-indulgence.

In fiction, sexual tension has something inappropriate or unwise – from the character’s view, or from the story’s. I don’t mean to demonize sex, or advocate a subtle puritanism, but fiction is always a distorted and extreme depiction, and sex is always a vulnerable state.

Characters can deny it, or give into it. Giving in is inherently heedless – if the sex were uncomplicated, they would just have it. It may lead to ruin. It may be for the good of the persons involved if not the society that denies them. It may even lead to romance and love, but not easily, and not without great disturbance in other aspects of the characters’ lives.

For good or ill, sexual tension leads characters astray.

The endless no

Not all attractions get acted out. Sometimes they linger, unacted on. Long enough and these denials can age like wine into bonds of friendship, or fester into ugly thoughts, or simply drag at us, like tides from a moon we’re bound to.

This works well for series characters, whose relationship can develop over several stories. In a standalone, the reader often comes in the middle of the relationship. In either case, seeing the tension is often more economical than backstory.

Be careful, however, to keep it in its place – after all, the characters are by definition in denial. When we see two characters drunk, or on their spouse’s arms at cocktail party, you can get to mutual sexual interest quickly and believably. In a crime scene investigation, it’s unprofessional, badly comic, and disorienting.

Locks and keys

As I said earlier, uncomplicated sex is not tense. If sex starts with a tension beyond simple anticipation, an attraction has to be more than the opening of a door. It has to be an unlocking, or a hacking, someone gaining access.

The disturbance I mentioned comes from this access, or can precede it. A person otherwise capable of denial might have had a separate major change in perspective making them less in control of their emotions. Or, they might simply find a person uniquely attractive person. I combined these in my novel The Demon in Business Class. When my rival protagonists first meet, they respond deeply on a sensory level, each for their own well-foreshadowed reasons. They’ve also both been through enough change in their recent lives that they are too compelled by their feelings. As my Gabriel later admits, “I was tired of doing the smart thing.”

You don’t have to underline what the character wants. You can even provide them with regular dollops of something they don’t want, even if it’s their normal. Charlaine Harris did this overtly, making Sookie Stackhouse unavoidably psychic, and vampire Bill Compton her first experience of not knowing too much.

Conditional attraction 

The ugliest sexual tension is also the most interesting – when it isn’t mutual. A character’s deep response to a disinterested, or manipulative, other gives the other power.

Usually these come on fast, giving the character no time to think. Also, once another is empowered, they quickly take what they want, or develop contempt.

Remember that even in this situation, you need to consider both characters. It’s not enough that a person find themselves vulnerable to a predator. Why? It’s rare that another is so compelling to a healthy ego; maybe the character’s real weakness is a belief in a distorted version of their true self.

Meanwhile, the predator has to know its prey. Maybe it adapts to attract a known mark, or just happily senses the particular insecurities it knows how to enthrall.

The empowerment can come after the possession, too, like Scheherazade’s tales. If a powerful person takes on an inferior for a lover, but then is drawn into vulnerability, the stakes for the attraction become more compelling.

The movie Looper has a lovely and strange conditional attraction. The mother seduces the young hitman, not for any specific reason, and with a powerful excitement – an intuitive empowerment. She wants him when he is most lost, to get him to protect her son. It’s never stated, it’s hot, but it’s clear he’s the one changing, not her.

Closing the deal

Just as the moment of attraction says more than backstory, the sex that comes from the tension can express the tension economically. Sex isn’t a mindless act. Even if characters give into passion they still know themselves. They also tend to enjoy it. In positions of weakness, or sudden strength, they can still embrace that pleasure.

Sex goes great with any mature genre. Enjoy exploring all the unromantic reasons characters get together!


Anthony Dobranski writes stylish fantasy and science-fiction novels with big ideas and desperate characters. His first novel is the modern-day international fantasy The Demon in Business Class, from WordFire Press. He is currently writing his second novel.
He is a native of the Washington DC area. In his first career he worked for AOL, in Europe and Asia-Pacific, which gave him the international corporate background for Demon. When not writing or reading, he likes odd movies, challenging theater, and skiing.

Mental or Emotional Strain

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

Oh boy, do I love this subject. I have been told by many readers and a few friends that I am a wee bit, err…CRAZY. That the dark side of me comes out to play in my writing. Honestly? I wouldn’t argue with them. I like to torture and create the most delicious tension for my characters. Not only do I enjoy making them suffer physically and emotionally, but I am huge fan of sexual tension.

To create tension is to create a pace where your characters are suffering. For me, it is quite easy to do that. I have always found that the more you suffer the greater the reward. In the case of fictional characters, at least for my characters, it is the same. In order to grow and become who you need to become there needs to be tension, trials, etc… In the series I am working on now, there is a lot of strain put onto my characters and their relationships with one another. They are expected to accept what they have been assigned to do, and do it with ease. Now this lovely group of people are warriors and assassins. You can imagine what spending weeks with a group of killers that you don’t particularly like can do for the amount of tension in an already bleak situation.

To say it makes my dark heart sing would be an understatement (insert evil laugh).

Characters drive your story, to create more depth for them you need to see the struggle and grow. Tension, the dirty bastard that she is, can do that. My personal form of torture, I mean tension, is the big S. Sexual. It is perhaps the most fun to play around with. Especially when you have two characters who don’t particularly like one another. You can put them in the most ridiculous of situations, like having one tackle the other while they are arguing. They can stare at each other with anger, when we all know what they realllyyy want. You can create silly nicknames that one character gives another, that one doesn’t like. There can be beautiful banter, pranks and arguing. It will probably drive the other characters in your book batty, because everyone can what is happening but the two characters the tension is between. It is one of my favorite things, and I always get particularly giddy when I read it or write it. You always know how perfect it is going to be when they finally explode and just jump each others bones! Pure perfection.

No matter what kind of tension it is, I am a big fan! What about you?

What kind of tension do you like? What kind of tension makes you roll your eyes?

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.